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Keywords:

  • humpback whale;
  • Megaptera novaeangliae;
  • low-frequency noise;
  • ATOC;
  • distribution;
  • abundance

Abstract

Humpback whale diving behavior changes subtly when exposed to signals transmitted from the Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC) sound projector located 14 km offshore the island of Kauai. This study considered whether such responses would lead to changes in distribution and abundance. A land-based shore station measured humpback whale locations (scan samples) for both nearshore (<5 km) and offshore (5–10 km) areas. Control observations were made in 1994 and 1998. In 1998 multipleday blocks with ATOC transmissions were interspersed with multiple-day control blocks without transmissions. Sighting rates were higher in 1998 (ATOC) than in 1994 (control year), probably due to better sighting conditions, but may reflect increased population size. Sighting rates did not differ between control and ATOC conditions in 1998. A seasonal sighting peak was observed in both years. No vessel effect on sighting rate was detected in 1998.

There was no effect of ATOC on the distance from the shore station to whales, or the depth of water where pods were located. However, the distribution of whales shifted slightly eastward during the ATOC blocks and the mean distance between the ATOC source and pods was greater during transmissions. Nonetheless, more whales were found close to the source when it was on, suggesting a more variable response rather than simple avoidance, with whales found both closer to, and farther away from, the source during transmissions.